Transylvanian villages with their fortified churches offer a very lively picture of the cultural life in the south of Transylvania. All these villages are characterized by a specific agricultural system and a specific pattern used to arrange the placement of rural households that was preserved to this day from the medieval period. The main attractions in these villages are the fortified churches that illustrate various periods of time a building’s history, starting with the 13th century. Some of these churches are included in UNESCO’s heritage list, churches that can be found in Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri.
These are the churches included in UNESCO’s list, but there are also other fortified churches worth visiting, considering their beautiful architecture, paintings and preserved objects. Let’s find out more about some of the fortified churches inTransylvania.
The fortified church in Biertan
This church is a Lutheran church, built by the Saxon community during a period of time when the area belonged to the Kingdomof Hungary, in the 15th century. At that time Biertan was allowed to organize a market, which made it a competition for other nearby areas, such as Medias and Mosna. From 1572 to 1867, the village was a see of theSaxonLutheranChurch, which explains why the church was so elaborate. The church is made out of a hall church with three naves and it was the last church with this “design” built inTransylvania. The altarpiece has 28 panels painted between 1482 and 1513 by an unknown painter, most likely trained atVienna orNuremberg. The stone pulpit, which shows various scenes carved in relief, dates back to 1523. The intarsia doors, with elaborate decorations have a complex lock that was displayed in 1889 atParis World’s Fair. This complex system block the door in 13 points, ensuring the safety of all valuable objects kept in the sacristy.
One of the most interesting facts about this church can be found on the grounds, where there is a “matrimonial prison”. During medieval times, if couples wanted to divorce, they were confined in this “prison” during a period of 14 days, to make sure they truly wanted to separate. They had to share a bed, a plate and a spoon. The matrimonial prison worked, as during three centuries of this unusual practice, only one couple divorced.
The fortified church in Darjiu
This is a Unitarian church, located in HarghitaCounty. It was first built in a Romanesque style in the 14th century, but it was later transformed into a Gothic one, in the second half of the 15thcentury. The fortifications were erected in 1400 and reached their final form in 1530. The oldest element of these fortifications is the tower located to the south of the church. The gate tower maintains its original form, with opening used to fire guns, which were closed with wooden shutters.
In the church several mural paintings date from the 15th century, influenced by Gothic and Italian Renaissance works. Paul of Ung executed them in 1419. Unfortunately, the murals were partly destroyed during the 18th century, while building the arches that were added to the construction.
The fortified church in Prejmer
This is a Lutheran church, located inBrasovCounty. It was founded by the Teutonic Knights and taken over by Saxons. The construction began around 1211, when the Teutonic Knights executed the Greek cross plan. The church in Prejmer is the only one of this kind in Transylvania and it was inspired by other churches from the northeast ofGermany. The knights were expulsed in 1225, but the Cistercians took over the construction and finished it in 1240.
The triptych altarpiece is the oldest in the region and it dates back to 1450. The paintings, quite well preserved were executed by an unknown artist, also most likely trained in Vienna.
Although the Prejmer village was destroyed over 50 times during the 13th and the 17thcenturies, invaders rarely captured the church. The church was strongly fortified during the 15thand 16th century by Sigismund of Luxemburg. Other defensive features, including five towers and a battlement were built to create an entire fortified complex, which could shelter 1600 villagers in case of attacks.
The site surrounding the church is now a museum, open for visitors.
The fortified church in Saschiz
The construction of this church began in 1439, on the site of a small Romanesque basilica. The main structure was completed in 1496, revealing one of the most beautiful Gothic churches inTransylvania. The interior décor is mainly Baroque, with only the choir pulpit being Gothic. Some inscription fragments survived on the exterior walls.
On a hill near the church, the ruins of a citadel dating from the 14th century are still visible today. Both the churches’ fortifications and the citadel were places for villages to find shelter during attacks. It is said that a childless woman who wanted to offer it as a gift to the villagers built the citadel. The hill has also an interesting legend that says that a protective giant who emits strange sounds each year on a specific night haunts it.
The fortified church in Viscri
The inhabitants of this village knew the church as “the white church”, as it was originally a chapel built prior to the Saxons’ arrival between 1141 and 1162. Coins and earrings were found in graves both outside and inside of the chapel and the oldest item dates from the late reign of Geza II.
The building of fortifications around the chapel began in the 12th century, and Saxons built other additions to the chapel, such as a Romanesque hall church and an apse, during the 13thcentury. The church was fully fortified around 1500.
There are just some of the facts that you can expect to learn more of when visiting the fortified churches in Transylvania, but each church is also an invaluable piece of history that unfold right before your eyes. Therefore, a Transylvania tour of the fortified churches is one of the most exciting trips that you could embark on. If you want to find out everything there is to know about the history of these churches, make sure to take a private tour with a guide that can offer you all the information.